Expert says upstate cities must invest in "quality of life" infrastructure to attract Gen Y residents

Ryan Delaney
April 11, 2014

Upstate New York’s cities have long had a hard time attracting and keeping young residents.

Milred Warner of Cornell University recently held a conference at the college on the economic state of upstate New York’s largest urban centers.

She says the region’s cities aren’t getting the ‘full gambit’ of rediscovery by younger generations because they’re not investing enough in areas like quality-of-life and infrastructure.

Basically, that means more people would move back into cities if roads and parks and such were in better condition.

“But these need to be invested in; they need to be maintained. And that is often the function of local government and it actually requires money to do so.”

Warner says in a service-based economy, it’s the quality-of-life in a city that’s the basis for future economic development.

The professor is critical of policies coming from Albany: curbing property tax rates and investing in glitzy economic projects rather than concentrating on basic infrastructure.

“And unfortunately, that’s the kind of investment that maybe it doesn’t make front page headlines, maybe it isn’t sexy, but it’s really, really critical.”

She says cities can only be so innovative without more help from the state.

She says mandates like rising pension and health care costs pose a burden too. As for consolidating services between county and city, Warner says municipalities only see cost savings about half the time, while it will usually result in better services.

Across upstate New York, the cities have higher concentrations of poverty than the suburbs.

“So the cities are almost the like the hole in the doughnut. And the doughnut of wealth is around the city. And we’ve got to have more regional strategies.”

Warner does note counties are recognizing their urban cores are important to the region’s economy.